crepitate

Another word that sounds like what it means. It might make you think of the noise your joints may sometimes make as you arise. Doctors will think first of lungs, however: think of the rale produced when you are in the throes of a chest infection… rattle, crackle, pop. On reading crep, think not of the French pancakes but rather of the paper or the fabric. Or consider craps, the rattling sound of the dice! The cr shows up in many words of this texture: crack, crumble, crush, creak – it’s almost a coughing sound, or the beginning of a growl or of grab but with the crispness of the voiceless [k]. If the pitate makes you think of potato, just think of the crispy chips and again you have the sound. The vowels in this word are all mid-high front, producing a higher-pitch effect (through the higher harmonics between the narrowing of the tongue and the mouth opening), while the consonants hit the three locations of voiceless stops, starting at the back, leaning the tongue forward through the r to the first vowel, bouncing off the lips and then tapping twice on the alveolar ridge. This pattern makes it a sound that can be produced repeatedly, like the bony fingers of death tapping on a windowpane or tabletop: crepitate crepitate crepitate crepitate… If death is coming for someone already decrepit, so much the more apposite; decrepit comes from the same root, Latin crepare, “crack, creak, rattle.” Someone who is decrepit is aged and weathered to the point of constant crepitation. But perhaps it is simply that death is coming by way of a rattlesnake, whose tail is tipped with a crepitaculum, which, famously, also crepitates; it rattles both its tail and the nerves of those around.

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2 responses to “crepitate

  1. Pingback: crapulous | Sesquiotica

  2. Pingback: crispy | Sesquiotica

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